If you have a severely decayed or damaged tooth, you may need to choose between a root canal and extraction. The American Association of Endodontists states that approximately 15 million root canal procedures are performed annually in the United States, while millions of teeth are extracted yearly.
A root canal procedure preserves the natural tooth structure by eliminating the infection and maintaining its functionality. However, extraction becomes necessary when the tooth is extensively damaged or risks your oral health. Understanding the benefits and differences between the two procedures is critical when deciding the best option for your dental health.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a standard dental procedure that saves a severely infected or damaged tooth from extraction. It involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the root canals, and sealing them with filling material.
The process begins by drilling a small hole in the tooth crown. The infected pulp is then removed, and the canals are shaped for filling. Your dentist may also inject an antibiotic into the canals to minimize re-infection risk. A biocompatible material, gutta-percha, is placed inside, and the tooth is sealed with adhesive cement.
You will receive a temporary filling during your initial visit. Then you’ll get a permanent filling or, more commonly, a dental crown to restore your tooth’s functionality, strength, and appearance at follow-up visits.
When Do I Need a Root Canal vs. an Extraction?
Root canal therapy is required when the dental pulp inside the tooth becomes infected or inflamed. This can occur due to severe tooth decay, a deep cavity, repeated dental procedures on the same tooth, or dental trauma.
Signs that indicate the need for a root canal include a persistent toothache, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, swelling and pain around the affected tooth, and darkening or discoloration.
Advantages of a Root Canal
A root canal procedure offers several benefits for patients suffering from dental infections or severe tooth decay, including:
Preserves Natural Tooth Structure
Preserving the natural tooth structure maintains the functionality and aesthetics of your smile. Unlike a tooth extraction, which involves removing the entire tooth, a root canal allows your dentist to save the natural tooth by removing the infected or damaged pulp and nerve tissues.
Maintains Chewing Function
By removing infected pulp and nerve tissue, a root canal eliminates discomfort, allowing patients to chew without pain. Preserving the natural tooth through a root canal maintains its functionality, allowing for efficient biting and chewing. This prevents adjacent teeth from shifting, ensuring proper alignment and optimal chewing function.
Prevents Misalignment of Teeth
When a tooth is extracted, adjacent teeth can gradually shift or tilt into the space, leading to misalignment or crowding. Opting for a root canal can help you prevent these issues, maintain proper tooth alignment and avoid costly orthodontic treatments.
Disadvantages of a Root Canal
While there are many advantages of a root canal, it’s also essential to consider the potential drawbacks associated with this procedure:
Potential for Additional Procedures
Sometimes, a root canal may require additional procedures, such as the placement of dental crowns. This is done to provide protection and support to the weakened tooth structure.
If the tooth has been significantly damaged or weakened, you may also need a post and core buildup. This involves placing a post into the root canal space to provide stability and support for the dental crown. A core buildup is then added to create a foundation for the crown.
Additional periodontal treatment may be necessary if the root canal was performed due to an infection or decay that extended into the surrounding gum tissues. This could involve scaling and root planing (deep cleaning), gum surgery, or other procedures to address gum disease or periodontal issues. This can increase the overall treatment duration and cost.
Not Always Successful
While root canal treatments have an 86.02% success rate, there is a slight chance of failure. If the infection recurs, you may need retreatment to remove the existing filling material, clean the canals again, and reseal them. If the decay and pain persist despite the retreatment, your dentist may prescribe tooth extraction and replacement options like dental implants or a bridge.
What is a Tooth Extraction?
Tooth extraction involves completely removing a tooth from its socket in the jawbone. The extraction process may vary depending on the condition of the tooth and your specific circumstances.
During a simple extraction, your dentist will administer local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth. Using a dental elevator and forceps, your tooth is gently loosened and extracted from the socket. In cases where the tooth is impacted or broken, you may need a surgical extraction. This procedure involves making an incision in the gum and removing the tooth in sections.
When Do I Need a Tooth Extraction vs. a Root Canal?
Tooth extraction is typically recommended when a tooth is severely damaged or poses a risk to oral health. Common reasons for tooth extraction include severe tooth decay, advanced gum disease, dental trauma, overcrowding, and impacted wisdom teeth.
Advantages of a Tooth Extraction
While dental extractions are considered a last resort and are typically only prescribed after other treatments have failed, extracting a tooth offers several benefits, including:
More Straightforward Procedure
Tooth extraction is a simpler and quicker procedure than a root canal. It is often the best option when the tooth is beyond repair.
Lower Chance of Repeat Infection
Removing the infected tooth eliminates the risk of further infections in that specific tooth. This can provide relief for individuals who have been experiencing chronic dental issues.
Less Time and Money
In some cases, tooth extraction may be more cost-effective than root canal treatment. The procedure typically requires fewer appointments, reducing both time and financial investment.
Disadvantages of a Tooth Extraction
Although tooth extraction often eliminates the source of infection, decay, and pain, the procedure can cause several complications for your oral health, including:
Loss of Natural Tooth
The biggest disadvantage of tooth extraction is the permanent loss of the natural tooth. Losing a tooth can affect your dental health and overall bite alignment. It may require additional dental work to restore functionality, such as dental implants or a dental bridge.
Possible Aesthetic and Functional Issues
Extracting a visible tooth, especially one in the front of the mouth, can have aesthetic implications. It may impact your smile and facial appearance. The absence of a tooth can also affect speech and chewing function, requiring adjustments and potential prosthetic replacements.
Bone Loss in the Jaw
When a tooth is extracted, the underlying jawbone can deteriorate over time. This occurs because of the loss of stimulation from the tooth’s root, which helps maintain bone density. Bone loss can lead to changes in facial structure and potential complications if you plan on getting dental implants in the future.
Support Your Oral Health With Owens Cosmetic and Family Dentistry
At Owens Cosmetic and Family Dentistry, our experienced staff has the knowledge and skills to support your oral health. Our state-of-the-art facility features advanced diagnostic technology, including intraoral cameras and digital X-rays, to help your dentist make the most accurate diagnosis and provide targeted treatment.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment and let our experienced team guide you to decide whether you need a root canal vs. extraction.